Wednesday, October 2, 2013 1:00 AM
As a state representative, Mississippi's Steven Palazzo sought to amend the state Constitution to prohibit healthcare mandates (like Obamacare), require Voter-ID and authored a resolution "reinforcing the fundamental principle and authority of state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution.
BIPEC, the Business and Industry Political Education Committee, awarded him straight-As every year he served in the legislature.
Since being elected to Congress he has earned 100 percent ratings from the National Right to Life Committee, National Federation of Independent Business, the Family Research Council, Americans for Better Immigration, Gun Owners of America (NRA rated him 92 percent) and the Campaign for Working Families.
National Journal ranks Palazzo the 40th most conservative member of the U.S. House of Representatives with a score of 86.5.
Despite his obvious conservative credentials, the Club for Growth Action has branded Palazzo a "RINO" (Republican In Name Only) and FreedomWorks scores Palazzo's 2013 votes at 38 (on a 100 point scale) accusing him of being less conservative than liberal Second District Democrat Congressman Bennie Thompson (46 score).
Staunch conservative U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper in Mississippi's Third District also has a 38 score.
There was a time when "RINO" was used to describe those who only were Republicans because they ran in a GOP district. Thus they used the party to get elected despite not having true Republican beliefs. Now many conservative groups and Tea Party groups use "RINO" to describe someone they disagree with on matters of policy, or just tactics. Thus a moderate Republican in a district more easily won by a Democrat is branded a "RINO" when the only reason for that person to run as a Republican is they actually believe in the GOP.
Elected officials and activists working in the GOP in Mississippi when it wasn't popular to be a Republican, and serving the party longer than some throwing the "RINO" term around have been alive, are called "RINO" for not meeting the "conservative" standard of activists who themselves would rather be aligned with their own movement than the Republican Party.
Folks seeking to brand Palazzo a "RINO" or question his commitment to the same issues they support have missed the mark. He consistently has run as, and won as, a conservative.
In 2010, few believed Palazzo could defeat 21-year incumbent Democrat Congressman Gene Taylor. As a freshman, Taylor won reelection in 1990 with 81 percent of the vote and in five of his subsequent elections he posted 75 percent of the vote or higher. Before Palazzo, his closest race was against Republican Dennis Dollar in 1996 - the only one to have held Taylor under 60 percent - and even then Taylor mustered a safe 58 percent of the vote.
Despite his conservative credentials, Palazzo first faced a challenge on the right from businessman and Tea Party favorite Joe Tegerdine in the 2010 Republican Primary. Palazzo won with 57 percent of the Republican vote, but bitterness at the "Republican establishment" endured among some South Mississippi Tea Party members and Tegerdine even endorsed Taylor (who had publically called him "a liar" during the campaign) for the general election.
Moving into the general election, Palazzo's campaign put early money into attacking Taylor's vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and caught the incumbent Democrat by surprise. The brilliant strategy drove Taylor's numbers down and a poll six weeks before the election showed Palazzo only four points behind. Money poured in along with independent expenditures and Palazzo won with 52 percent of the vote. Despite talk of vulnerability, Palazzo won a second term in 2012 with 74 percent in the Republican Primary and 64 percent in the general election.
Palazzo continues his opposition to Obamacare that began when he was still a state representative. He is an original cosponsor of the House Defund ObamaCare Act - the Senate version was introduced by Texas Senator Ted Cruz whose recent 21-hour speech inspired the same folks who take aim at Palazzo. He also is an original cosponsor of the resolution to fund the government except for Obamacare, endorsed by the national group Tea Party Express.
Currently, Palazzo is airing a campaign radio commercial across his district saying he is leading the fight to end Obamacare, noting he has voted over 40 times to "repeal, replace, delay and dismantle Obamacare. Now Steven is fighting to defund it" and urges listeners to visit his web site and sign a petition for defunding.
In his most recent campaign finance filing, Palazzo posted over $400,000 cash-on-hand. Combined with his early campaign effort, consistent opposition to Obamacare, and rapid response to political issues (like opposing nuclear storage/reprocessing), critics contemplating a primary challenge may find Palazzo stronger than they anticipate. FreedomWorks or Club for Growth would strain credulity in supporting attacks on Palazzo while he aggressively advocates their own policies.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.